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When to pull the plug on a project – what PRINCE2 says

Blog posted by: Pedro Bertacchini – Senior Project Manager, 01 July 2022.

There are various factors which can undermine a project and result in its closure.

These include unengaged sponsors, cost overcoming the benefits, continuous delays, change in strategy, lack of funds or priority in a portfolio and failure to deliver among others.

All the above demonstrate how uncertainty is an inherent characteristic of projects. It is virtually impossible to predict how things will progress, as both internal and external factors move fast and impact the way we work and the project’s outputs.

Knowing that, it is likely that not all the information required will be available when considering the feasibility of a project. Therefore, updating the business case and reviewing viability in each stage is essential to make sure you’ve got continuous business justification to progress.

Closing a project prematurely shouldn’t be mistaken for “project failure” – in fact, not taking the decision to end a project early is more likely to be deemed a failure if the circumstances suggest it’s the best option for the organization.

However, there is a best practice way to go about doing it.

Project closure – how to manage it according to PRINCE2

When a project manager must close a project prematurely – probably on the instruction of the project board – best practice according to PRINCE2 is mainly two-fold:

  • To preserve anything which generates value
  • To ensure any gaps caused by project cancellation are raised to corporate, programme management or the customer.

The main reason for the first point is to try to retain the effort and investment applied by getting value from any finished piece of work

A good example of this is a software development project which involves creating functionalities and building the work in iterations. If the project is forced to closed, you don’t simply scrap the whole software created; the developed solutions can be used and the rest of the work can carry on once the circumstances are favourable.

PRINCE2 adds that recovering products either completed or in progress may include activity to create make safe or complete in a way that makes them useful, such as securing a semi-constructed building.

Relating to the second point, gaps must be identified and highlighted as they may impact a programme, a related project or a strategic matter such as regulation or a revenue generation stream. Once flagged, it’s necessary to propose and execute remedial action to close the gaps. It’s important to keep the relevant documentation updated, especially the lessons log as this will be instrumental for further similar projects.

Ultimately, notice is given to senior management that project resources will be released earlier than anticipated.

A lesson from Agile

A useful artefact introduced by Agile methodology – that can assist in avoiding a premature closure – is the concept of “fail fast”. This consists of gathering feedback in the early stages and assessing whether to continue working on that task or take a different approach.

In fact, learning from previous lessons and keeping all the relevant parties linked and informed is a fundamental principle of PRINCE2. It is particularly important to do this in the case of a project being closed early. Overall, if a project is not fit for purpose or not performing as it should, it is best practice to identify that early in the process rather than investing time and resources and not getting the expected value.


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